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Vilifying rural missionaries

From the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) comes a statement condemning the government’s vilification of the organization by portraying it as a “communist front.” The Red-tagging and accusation of trafficking tribal children was made through a report sent last month to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights by National Security Council deputy director general Vicente Agdamag.

This blows the mind. You bring children to safety and you are accused of trafficking.

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RMP’s national coordinator Sister Elenita Belardo, RGS, strongly denied the accusations by saying that in RMP’s efforts to raise people’s awareness on the plight of the marginalized in rural areas, the government is resorting to vilification and slander. Agdamag’s move is alarming, she said, as it would justify a government crackdown on missionaries working among the rural poor, particularly the “lumad” or indigenous peoples (IP) communities.

Recall that Australian missionary Sister Patricia Fox, who had worked for decades in the Philippines and for several years as national coordinator of RMP, was thrown out of the country last year despite court appeals and rallies on her behalf.

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Recall that last year President Duterte issued warnings on IP schools being ideologically infiltrated, implying that he might close them down and bring in businesses instead. (Ah, so…) RMP issued a statement then to condemn the President’s threat to bomb schools and asked him to withdraw his threat. RMP did stress that the schools were not illegal (they were supported by the Department of Education, then under the watch of Secretary Armin Luistro) and were not training rebels as alleged.

When RMP was in the news last year because of the Fox case and the threats on lumad schools, I did a one-on-one interview with Belardo for an international church news organization. Here are some facts that could dispel government bias against RMP, which turns 50 this year.

RMP is a mission partner of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines and has 177 missionaries from different religious congregations of women and men. (It began as an all-women group.) It also has lay missionaries. It gets funding from Misereor of the German Catholic bishops and other religious groups.

RMP operates in the northern, central and southern Philippine provinces. RMP runs a variety of ministries—sustainable agriculture, rural schools, disaster risk reduction, climate change mitigation, health services, defense of human rights, organic farming, education and training for the marginalized and support of people’s advocacies.

Said RMP’s coordinator Belardo: “We are few in number vis-à-vis the many challenges, in the area of land reform, for example, in peace talks as well as threats to the lumad communities’ ancestral domain. Under the present administration, 110 leaders have been killed, 66 of them in Mindanao.”

RMP’s biggest challenge? Mining and private armies.

As the Lenten season begins in this predominantly Catholic Christian country, it behooves us to understand why persons who have consecrated themselves to serving God’s people continue to risk their lives and speak out on behalf of the voiceless. In the words of Belardo:

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“We do the mission of Jesus. As he said in Luke 4:18, ‘He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free.’ And in John 10:10, ‘I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.’

“The first line of the encyclical Gaudium et Spes says: ‘The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.’”

Although RMP members come from different congregations, they are bound by the mission, vision and goals of RMP, as they heed the exhortation of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines: “The Church of the Poor is one that will be in solidarity with the poor. It will collaborate with the poor themselves and with others to lift up the poor from their poverty.”

Tomorrow, International Women’s Day, March 8, at 4 p.m., women’s groups will hold a rally with the theme: “Tama Na! Sulong Kababaihan!” Venue: beside the La Madre Filipina statue at Rizal Park in Manila. Come!

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TAGS: communist fronts, Elenita Belardo, Human Face, Ma. Ceres P. Doyo, RMP, Rural Missionaries of the Philippines
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